LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Rick Barnes hasn’t changed his mind about Kentucky.
Even after Tennessee rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the sixth-ranked Wildcats Tuesday night, Barnes said Kentucky remains one of the top teams in the country as both teams prepare for the postseason, starting with next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville.
Barnes said Kentucky and Kansas are the two best teams in the nation and he still thinks the Wildcats aren’t getting the respect they deserve this season.
“I think Kentucky is the most under-appreciated team in college basketball, and I still believe that,” Barnes said after the Volunteers defeated the Wildcats 81-73 earlier this week. “That makes the fact the way we came back really something special for these guys because they felt coming in that they could win.
“I’m not going to say that we didn’t because we could. We went back and looked at our tape against them there. They are a much better team, but we were 10 times better than we were in Knoxville. We weren’t very good on offense. Defensively, they’ve improved a lot. Across the board, I said it, not one guy didn’t help us get done what we needed to get done tonight.”
Kentucky leading scorer Immanuel Quickley was stunned by the setback, Kentucky’s first loss on Senior Day since 2009. Quickley said there was no “specific reasoning” for the loss and credited the Volunteers for making a successful comeback.
“They were a better team today, credit to them,” he said. “They played harder than us, executed better. You just have to give credit to them.”
Quickley added the mood in the Kentucky locker room was “really quiet” and “everybody knows we did not play our best.”
“We just have to move forward,” he said. “Every team, we have had adversity this whole year. We just have to let this morph us in a positive way and get ready for the next team.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari agreed and said the Volunteers were more physical. Tennessee shot 52.8 percent against the Wildcats and became the third team this season to shoot more than 50 percent against Calipari’s squad this year. The Wildcats are 0-3 when teams make at least half of their shots.
“We have been on a heck of a run,” Calipari said. “This team has done a lot of good stuff, and the one thing we worry about is if the game is going to be physical, like, Nick's (Richards) getting, you know, then we have got to learn to play in these kinds of games.”
“We’ve been doing it all year, giving up leads, but we just got to bounce back,” Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey added. “It’s like I’ve been saying — you got 24 hours and after that you’re back at the drawing board to practice on Thursday.”
Overall, Calipari said Tennessee dominated in every phase of the game, especially in the second half and was disappointed his team couldn’t hold a 17-point advantage.
“We got manhandled, I got manhandled. It was, this is one that, you know (was hard to swallow),
Calipari said. “I know I got to watch the tape. I'm not going to look forward to watching this tape, but you got to watch the tape. Now we got another tough one. We go to Florida.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, 1 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.